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Easley testifies at hearing

October 28, 2009 5:43:40 PM PDT
Former Governor Mike Easley testified for more than five hours Wednesday before the North Carolina State Board of Elections hearing on his campaign finance activities.The board is looking at flights Easley took on the private planes of supporters, a vehicle he received from a North Carolina car dealer, and how money given to the North Carolina Democratic Party may have been used for the Easley campaign.

Easley began on Wednesday talking about an SUV that he got from car dealer Robert Bleecker in 2002.

Bleecker testified on Monday that the vehicle was a 2000 GMC Yukon worth $16,000 to be used by Easley's son Michael in the campaign. He testified he did not expect to be paid until the vehicle was returned, and he didn't get paid until earlier this year.

The Easley campaign did not show the vehicle in its financial documents until it filed amended reports this past April.

Bleecker said the deal was treated as a lease, but not a normal one.

"This was not a usual deal," Bleecker admitted under questioning, and Easley said much the same thing Wednesday.

"This was not a typical lease purchase," said Easley.

Easley said believed the campaign was paying the lease, and he intended that his family would take over paying for the vehicle once the campaign was over.

But Easley was fuzzy on the exact details of the deal and said he did not keep track of bills or invoices.

"I had people paid to do that," said Easley.

"It just never crossed your mind that 'Hey, we aren't paying Mr. Bleecker?'" questioned Chairman Larry Leake.

"I thought the campaign would get and invoice and would pay it," said Easley.

Once the campaign ended, Easley said he thought his personal assistant was sending payments for the vehicle.

Flights by McQueen Campbell

The board also asked Easley about the testimony of McQueen Campbell, who said Monday that he provided dozens of flights on his planes to the Governor.

Flights the Governor took on private planes would legally be considered in-kind contributions that should have been reported to state elections officials. Campbell said the worth of the flights was over $100,000 dollars and he did not bill the campaign for them and was not paid.

But Easley contradicted that testimony Wednesday - saying that Campbell told him he had been paid for the campaign for the flights, and therefore they were not contributions.

"I wasn't out there trying to second guess a person who I trusted, who had told me he had been paid," said Easley. "He told me he was paid for all of those."

Money from campaign went to residence

In his testimony Monday, Campbell also said that he organized repairs to an Easley home and that when he asked the Governor for payment, he was led to understand he should bill the campaign for air travel to cover the amounts - meaning campaign money was used to make the repairs.

"I understood what he meant," McQueen said.

But Wednesday, Easley said he had no recollection of any such conversation.

"I didn't give him any suggestion he should do that. It never, ever, happened," said Easley.

Rebecca McGhee, an assistant to the Easley campaign treasurer, testified earlier this week that Governor Easley instructed her to pay the invoice from Campbell - even though it was not accompanied by supporting documents that were usual with travel bills.

Easley admitted Thursday that he did call McGhee and told her to pay the bill, but he said the invoices - in his mind - had nothing to do with home repairs. He said he believed the money was for flights.

Questions about money sent to NC Democratic Party

Easley said Wednesday he was not aware of any donations being funneled through the North Carolina Democratic Party to his campaign illegally.

Parties can receive unlimited contributions while individual candidates are limited to $4,000 per donor. There is no limit on how much the parties then turn around and give to specific campaigns. However, it is against campaign law for parties to solicit funds for specific candidates.

In testimony Monday, two contributors spoke about checks they wrote to a special fund at the North Carolina Democratic Party after they had already reached the individual donation maximum. They said that they said they understood the money was to go to Easley.

But Easley told the board he had no knowledge of that type of activity.

"We had good people that knew the rules," said Easley.

Easley said his campaign had control over how the money was raised, but the Democratic Party controlled how it was spent.

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